Aspiring and successful writers alike are drawn to writing for different reasons. In my case, it was because of a life-changing situation that I started writing, or, should I say, that caused me to shift the balance of writing in my life.
Engaging in writing was always part of my life, whether it was the writing for cathartic or therapeutic purposes, for essays in various educational settings, or eventually writing articles for magazines and newspapers. My love of writing and learning meant I drifted into an academic career, and I was therefore one of the snooty ones who had to write for equally snooty academic types as part of the job. If someone asked me before I became an academic whether I could write, I don’t know how I would have answered that. What I would have said was that I loved writing. However, that was until I became an academic.
I soon learnt that academics enjoy nothing more than to pull the writing and research of fellow academics to shreds. Not only pull it apart, but gleefully rip it to pieces with psychopathic pleasure, like witnessing the spilling of blood and guts, thinly disguised as peer feedback. It took me many years to become somewhat proficient in the academic style of writing. Being of a stubborn nature, I had to persevere despite the many bruises and injuries I sustained over that period of time. I still bear the scars.
Then Eugene, my beloved brother and best friend, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was a gay man, having grown up in a very conservative culture, and his journey through life was often fraught with challenges due to his sexual orientation. He had lived an uneventful and quiet life with his life partner for 23 years, until the fateful day when the diagnosis of cancer changed everything. Given his sexual orientation and the cultural environment in which they lived, it was at times very difficult for his partner, Pieter, to openly give him the support heterosexual couples would have taken for granted. It was their unwavering love and support for each other that inspired me to take a sabbatical from my academic life and devote my time to writing their story.
It was a labour of love, but also one that was accompanied by many challenges. Eugene always referred to the journey with cancer as a rollercoaster ride, and that is exactly what the writing of their story felt like. Once again, I turned to writing for cathartic reasons, and it helped me to come to terms with his loss. I am also intensely grateful that I have been able to bestow this gift on them and ensure that their story survives and possibly offers comfort to others on a similar journey.
The writing of their tribute was demanding in many other ways. I faced the intense emotions of reliving the happier times Eugene and I had together, as well as the buckets of tears we shed and the frustrations and agony we experienced after his diagnosis. In addition, I had to rediscover my more enthusiastic voice long since subdued by academia. The style of writing demanded by the academic community, and the competency I spent so many long and painful years mastering, was totally inadequate in capturing the essence of the journey Eugene and Pieter had to endure. Therefore, the process of writing was also a new beginning for me as a writer of a different kind. I am now at the threshold of publishing their tribute and the question of “What now?” remains unanswered.
If you continue to stretch a piece of elastic and then let go, it is unlikely to return to its original length and shape. That is how I feel at the moment. Having been stretched for the duration of writing my tribute, it will be impossible for me to return to the same size and shape before I embarked on this journey, namely that of an academic. It is therefore time for soul searching, and time to allow the soft voices whispering in my ear to tell me that it may be time for a change of career and lifestyle.
My final gift to my brother may, therefore, also result in reacquainting me with a long lost love, namely that of spontaneous and emotional writing. Only time will tell….
Angélique has had a multifaceted international career within the industry, followed by an academic role, and executive coach for 20 years. Writing has always been part of her life and she has published a number of academic books within her specialism. Angélique took a break from her academic role in order to write a tribute to her gay brother and his partner and their journey with terminal cancer, entitled Goodnight Doll due for publication in January 2016.